Monday, May 22, 2017

Erasmus's Translation of the New Testament and the Reformation

This morning Red Baron was at the university listening to a lecture by Professor Henk Jan de Jonge of the University of Leiden, the Netherlands. His topic, Erasmus's Translation of the New Testament and the Reformation, is highly relevant in the year when Lutherans all over the world are commemorating 500 years of Reformation.


In 1516 Johann Froben at Basel published the Novum Instrumentum omne diligenter ab Erasmo Roterdamo recognitum & emendatum, non solum ad graecam veritatem, verumetiam ad multorum utrisque linguae codicum ... emendationem & interpretationem ... by Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus.


The renowned expert in the field Professor Jan de Jonge told the audience that the initial purpose of Erasmus was to write a Latin text more elegant then the Vulgata. His translation of the New Testament from the hand-written Greek urtext is based on classical Latin as written by Cicero, Caesar, Sallust, Livius, and Quintilian. Erasmus went back to the Greek roots (ad fontes). He did not want to replace the Latin Vulgata that dates back to the 4th century but rather eliminate corrupt text passages and correct mistranslations.

According to Erasmus one should translate not ad verbum (word-for-word) but ad sensum (sinngemäß or meaning-based). Any translation is just a recommandation and does not determine the meaning. Erasmus had the hope that in his time of religious turmoil, i.e., during the Reformation his new translation would contribute to the renewal of Christianity.

For his translation of the New Testament into German Martin Luther used Erasmus's "best" Latin version but the interpretation with the help of many new German words he invented was all his. In fact, the significance of Erasmus's work is not so much the better Latin of the Novum Instrumentum to be used by theologists and educated people but the opening for other, additional, and newer translations and interpretations. This is why Catholics for centuries were not allowed to read other Bibles than those authorized by Rome. In the 19th century ironically Protestant theologists started scrutinizing and questioning Luther's text going again back to the roots (ad fontes). As times change so do translations and interpretations of the Bible.

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